tv [untitled] June 3, 2012 8:30am-9:00am EDT
the side of a wine bottle. it's learning about the slaves but also merchandise i don't know's view of slavery which is incredibly important about understa understanding who mr. madison was. we know about his role as a politician, the fourth president of the united states, his role as a political thinker was designing the virginia plan and the constitution, his role as an ent tearer with dolley in the house but a very important role he had was as a slave owner, and how does this blend all these together, you know, the entertaining he was doing, how he had house slaves interacting with other slaves and with the guests. so, we're trying to but all this back together, and the documents don't tell us everything we need, so we're trying to fill in the gaps with the archaeology. >> you can view more "american history tv" programs at our website, cspan.org/history. you can also follow us on facebook,
facebook.com/c-spanhistory. and now "the contenders." our 14-week series on key political figures who ran for president and lost but who nevertheless changed political history. tonight we feature former house speaker henry clay of kentucky known as the great compromiser. the program was recorded at clay's ashland estate in lexington, kentucky, and it's about 90 minutes. each sunday at this time through labor day weekend, can you watch "the contenders" here on american history tv on c-span 3. this is a portrait of kentucky's henry clay, known to us in our history books as the great compromiser. during his 49-year political career, clay served as secretary of state, speaker of the house and as a u.s. senator. and he was a contender, making five presidential bids, including the election of 1824,
1832 against andrew jackson, and 1844 when he ran against james k.polk. tonight we are on location at ashland, henry clay's home in lexington, kentucky, and for the next 90 minutes we will explore the life and legacy of this man. unsuccessful in his long quest for the white house, yet having an outsized influence on american history, and we are in henry clay's parlor right now. let me introduce to you jim klotter, 25 years now as kentucky state historian. james, thanks for being with us. >> glad to be here. >> henry clay, why is he relevant to americans living in our time? >> i think a couple of accounts. first of all, his famous comment, i would rather be right than be president i think still speaks to us. it's a clarion call to people all across whatever we're doing, whether we're in politics or something else, is to do the right thing. he also said, you know, that in a sense that politicians need to remember the country and sacrifice for the country, and i
think that is still something that we need to remember as well and, of course, the man known as a great compromiser, a man that forged these compromises that not only kept a nation together but were constructive, and those kinds of things i think are the kinds of things we need to remember about henry clay, as well as all of the things that he did in his life. they, again, are a clarion call over and over to us, to say again and again that we can do a lot of things if we do and try at a self-made man did, henry clay. >> well, we're going to try to fit 49 years of rich political history during a very complex and interesting time of american history into our program tonight, but let's start with some basics about his biography, where and when was he born, and then how did he get to kentucky? >> he was born in 1777, and the seventh child, and his father died very young. clay's mother remarried to a younger man, but clay liked to think of himself as a self-made man, a mill boy slashes carrying
the corn to the mill, working himself to the bone and coming up from the ranks from a very poor essence, but in essence he came from a well-to-do family. they had slaves. they weren't that bad off, but he was part of the persona that clay then presented as himself. from there he went through his family basically came to kentucky leaving him back in virginia have a when he was 14 years old to be on his own, and then from there he finally joined them back in kentucky when he was 21 years old, young layer, married well. the easiest way to get rich is to marry well, and he did that, and these kate that we're in today is an example of what he did with his start and with his promise, and he made himself into someone all americans knee. >> who did he mayor? >> lucrecia hart family, from the hart family in kentucky. married into that family which gave him entry into a lot of political circles that would
have been denied him. he also -- she prout with that marriage some money, and they basically had the connections because her family was linked to a lot of people and he used those connections to move forward and he also, once he got the foot in the door, he could open the door himself through his own skills and own abilities. >> if henry clay were through time travel what would we see what, did he sound like? >> i don't think anybody would sit down with henry clay and leave without liking henry clay. he was a man, not a handsome man. everyone says he was ugly. in fact, they always commented about his large mouth. they said his mouth was so large he couldn't even spit properly. he was a man who liked the ladies, as they said, and somebody at the time said he could kiss them out of one side of his mouth while he was resting the other side of the mouth. as soon as he opened that mouth, a great oratory came out. he could charm you. he had that charisma, if there was a person at the opposite
party that came to henry clay's home or to a party that clay was doing, there was a room filled with people, a room bigger than this, and the man said to this man from the other party, wouldn't you like to meet the famous mr. clay, and this democrat said about the wig clay, no, sir, no, sir, i do not choose to subject myself to the spell of his face nation, because he knew henry clay would suck him into his orbit if he met henry clay, he that h that that, that charisma, that anyone who met henry clay would like him one-on-one. >> was it a genetic gift, or did he school himself to be an orator did, he have a mentor? where did he get this from? >> he worked on it. he heard patrick henry speak back in virginia and he wanted to be like that. he talked about giving cows to the field in practice and he came to kentucky as a lawyer. he almost had to convince your juries through this force of your words, not necessarily
through the law itself in frontier state like that, so he developed it, but he was almost a self-made orator, too, because over time it was something he -- he could turn on a minute and speak on the issues. he was -- it was impossible to challenge clay in a debate because he would get up on the spur of the moment and come up with all the facts and all the figures and win the argument. john c. calhoun once prepared a talk for two weeks, and clay got up and demolished it instantly, and that's the kind of man clay was, and had he been able to appear on television, he could have really been a very effective politician. of course, at that time you didn't campaign for president. there was no radio. so you had to -- had the force of the oratory that is lessoned and only in congress would you have the full force that have. >> when we've been talking with historians and people here at ashland about him, they keep telling us that he was the equivalent of a rock star in his
time. everybody in the country knew him. now, in a country without mass communication, how was it possible for everybody to know who henry clay was? >> everybody -- politics was the sports of that time. it was a game that everybody followed. there were no organized sports, as we know it, things like that. there wasn't any musical things except in the church and things like that, so the politics and the oratory, everybody wanted to follow that just as closely as they could, and the oratory, the speeches of a clay, webster, young boys in school, girls would write these down and practice them over and over again because of -- they wanted to be like a henry clay, but he was like a rock star. i mean, he would be followed by adoring people. he would go into towns, and there's an example of 100,000 people turning out to hear him speak at one time in dayton, ohio. he had children named for him, steamboats named for him. he had everything named for him. he was a man that people wanted to see, just to savor the
excellence of henry clay. >> well, politicians still talk about henry clay today. let's listen into kentucky's senior senator, mitch mcconnell, referencing henry clay. >> henry clay was the greatest statesman that my home state ever produced. he served the people as speaker of the kentucky house of representatives, speaker of the united states house of representatives, secretary of state under president john quincy adams, and, of course, as one of the greatest senators to ever walk through the capitol. he was also honored to receive his party's nomination for president three times, in 19 -- in 1824, 1832 and 1844. the essence of legislating in the senate as 100 viewpoints are brought together to create one law is compromise. henry clay became known as the
great compromise er by forging e compromise that would keep his precious union together. clay did not compromise in the sense of forsaking his princi e principles. rather his skills was to bring together disparate ideas and forge consensus among his colleagues. that's a skill we could certainly use more of now. >> during the great debates we just went through this summer over the debt ceiling budget, there was so much talk about compromise and whether or not it's a lost art. talk about it in that context about henry clay as the great compromiser and what kinds of skills he brought to bear there. >> clay, if he wanted something to happen, would work very hard to make it happen. he would sit down with people. he would find out what they wanted. he would go to the other side to see what they would want. he tried to find a common ground, somewhere in the middle. it cost him though because, as
they say about compromisers, there's a sign i think in the attorney general's office in the 1960s that said blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall catch hell from both sides, and in a sense clay caught that problem from both sides, and it hurt him politically, but at the same time he felt he had to do this because the nation required it. the nation had been founded on compromi compromise. the constitution is a compromise, and the nation did not compromise on these issues, it would tear itself apart, and so clay had an urgency behind everything that he did. he actually compromised some of his principles for the sake of the union. in the 1833 compromise, he gave up his beloved tariff issues for the sake of keeping the union together and not having secessionists break off and fight a war against andrew jackson, but at the same time the greater thing that he would not compromise on was the union. he said at one time anybody wants to know the key to my heart, the union is the key to
my heart. that was a thing he would never compromise on. >> when we're talking about echoes of today, the american system which is something he promoted had major components which include tariffs, you just referenced, spending the money from the tariffs on building american infrastructure, and then also the big debate over a national bank. we're still discussing how effective these things are in today's economy. what were the -- what was the country like then, and what was the level of debate over issues such as the tariff and the national bank? >> very philosophical issues that were issues from the very start of the nation. they were still issues when henry clay came around. they are still issues today. do we have a strong central government, or do we have strong state governments? these are the issues that clay spoke on. he thought a national government should do things for the nation, that the states cannot accomplish these, and he spoke out on that, and people spoke against him for that, and it hurt him in a lot of ways, politically as well.
but he felt like that's roads, these canals, that these internal improvements from necessary to tie the country together. otherwise it would fragnent moo east, west, north, south. his comment was i know no north, no south, no east, no west to. him it was one country indivisible. and these were pay ways to keep together. tariff would help american industry grow to be strong to compete against britain and against other groups like that, and then a bank of the united states, at the time that the united states was being formed, hard money was the only legal currency. the government didn't print paper money, some banks did, but they could be weak. banks, and the money would go away. clay wanted a central bank that we wouldn't have until the federal reserve system was set up in the 20th century and that central bank became question controversial as well and hurt him politically.
he thought all of this was good for the nation. >> henry clay sounds like a pretty good guy, but you said he had a lot of enemies. he was also known to have some vices. what were his vices? >> you talked about the age that this was in. those vices became more prominent the longer he lived, as far as the political scene went, because in his youth he was known as a person who liked to gamble. he said it was a very good political tool. he could sit down at kent making the peace treaty with the british in the war of 1812 and sit across from the table playing poke we are them and see how much they would call his bluff. he would lose huge amounts of money one night, win it back the next month. his wife lucrecia, when someone chatted her about a man who likes to gamble much, she said, i don't know, he usually wins. he did like to gamble a lot.
as he got older he didn't gamble as much. beliked to drink, at most americans did at that time, but he enjoyed wine and all of those things were used against him. all of that was used against the moral side of american that thought that clay was a womanizer, a blasphemer, a duellist and those things would be used against him over and over again. at different times in his life there was something to some of those, but it was much exaggerated. it became part of the stereotype of henry clay. >> clay died in 1852, so the 50-year career we're talking about spans the first half of the 19th century in america, a great year -- many years full of the formation of the nation and also sectionalism and the fights over livry. we have so much to talk about, and during this program we'll be opening up our phone lines for your participation. i'll give you the phone lines now if you want to get in the
queue, a little bit of time before we get to calls. if you're interested get in line. 202-373-0001 if you live in the eastern or central time zones, if you live or the mountain or pacific time zones, 202-373-2002, and we welcome your comments and input into this period of american history. it makes the discussion much richer. we also want to listen to the views of kentucky's junior senator, rand paul, about henry clay. >> henry clay's life is at best a mixed message. his compromises were over slavery. one could argue that he rose about sectional strife, to keep the union together, to preserve the union, but one could also argue that he was morally wrong and that his decisions on slavery, to extend slavery, were decisions that actually may have even eventually innovated the war that came, that his compromises meant that during the 50 years of his legislative
career, he not only accepted slavery but he accepted the slave trade. in the name of compromise, henry chay was by most accounts not a cruel master, but he was at matter nonetheless of 48 slaves, most of which he did not free during his lifetime and some of which he only freed belatedly 28 years after his death. he supported the fugitive slave law throughout his career. he compromised on the extension of slavery. when he was the speaker of the house, there was a vote of extending slavery into arkansas, and the vote was 88-88. he came down, extraordinarily from the speaker's chair to vote in favor of extending slavery into arkansas. before we eulogize henry clay, we should acknowledge and appreciate the contrast with contemporaries who refused to compromise. william lloyd garrison toiled at a small abolitionist press for 30 years refusing to compromise
with clay, with clay's desire to send the slaves back to africa. garrison was beaten, chased by moms and imprisoned for his principled stand. frederick douglass traveled the country at the time. he was a free black man, but he traveled at great personal risk throughout the countryside, and he proved ultimately that he was the living, breathing example that intellect and leadership could come from a recently freed slave. >> and we are back, and we are with another guest that i'd like to introduce. alicestyne turley is a history professor at the university of louisville, and welcome to our discussion of henry clay. before we get to the area which you have spent a lot of your scholarship, which is slavery in that time period of henry clay, talk to me in the general sense about your impressions of henry clay and his legacy. what are your views of this man? >> i think the image of him as a rock star and popular candidate,
political figure, is very impressive. he is a lightning rod. he seems to be able to get people fired up, either for or against him. he has the ability to inspire, and even on the abolitionist issues, he takes more heat than people, senators, who were actually more john c. calhoun, for instance. clay is probably a lot more talked about, written about, focused upon than some of the more prominent political figures. >> we've spent time talking about his basics and haven't really dellvedded into his position about slavery. explain to us what his philosophical and political positions were against slavery. >> philosophically he was against the idea of slavery. i guess for hy his time period he would have been considered extremely liberal, and for a long time he was touted as an abolitionist and emanicipati
emanicipationist. he did not believe in slavery, but he also didn't think african-americans could survive in america survive in america as citizens. so the whole idea of the american colonization society, freedom outside the united states, sort of became his platform, that he really stuck to throughout his presidency. he never -- i'm sorry. i'm making him president. throughout his political career, he never did deny the fact that he felt african-americans should have their freedom. he just was not willing to risk. he knew the political damage, anti-is livery could do to political career and the country. >> he was a slave holder. in the north he was criticized as a slave holder. in the south he was criticized for anti-slave views. had he taken one side or the other he may have been much
better off as a politician as abraham lincoln in north did, got elected with votes from the north. if he freed his slave could it have helped him as a politician. >> he wasn't willing to do it. >> what do we know about the number of slaves he held here at ashland and how he treated them? >> he -- recorded at the height of having 35, i think, when he died he still is holding slaves. he emancipates some. those that most famous case, of course, is charlotte who is his servant in washington. who doesn't want to return to kentucky when he wants to come back. but -- and who stays and literally she takes him to court and loses. he gets credit for freeing charles and some of the other slaves here on the estate.
but in the long run he is a -- he finds slaves, too, he spends times at the market here in lexington purchasing slaves. and is known for the quality of slaves he purchases. again, he is one of those people that is dual-natured. >> it is one of those things that -- people used to talk about slavery in kentucky being the mildest but didn't really matter. it was still slavery. abolitionists came to kentucky and said people say slavery here is the mildest. still is enough here to cause a very heart to sicken and that's really what slavery was. somebody said they heard the lash on the back and heard the screams of the slave and that was a death nail of liberty p. that was a part of clay he could never see or pick up on as much as the other parts of his life. >> i want to spend a minute on this american colonization society. i read at first meeting pretty famous american names around the table including an true jackson, nemesis. an yell webster.
james monroe, francis scott key who wrote the "star spangled banner." how popular was the colonization movement in this country? >> it was extremely popular. clay is considered one of the major if not the founder. he gets federal funding for it to buy the land. he becomes the lightning rod in the north. this is what causes them to unite against henry clay in the sense that why should we have to leave the united states as popular and -- in the white community. not popular in the south.
>> they were more americans than we were. why should we leave our home? >> no connections to africa whatsoever. ing the fact that clay was trying to remove primarily free blacks, colonization society represented removal of free blacks from the country and not slaves. that was another controversial part. >> i'm going to introduce a third person to our discussion. ashland is open for tours and interpret it is life of henry clay. we have a special guest who is with us tonight who she is the director of tour operations here. and before you take our viewers on a tour of the first, let's get a sense of place. ashland today is in what part of lexington? >> new circle road. mile and a half from downtown and mile and a half from new circle road. southeast edge of the town and part after beautiful edge of arlg only. how many acres does the house
have today? how many did henry clay have at -- >> today we sit on about 17 acres here at ashland. we have the contract for the first 125 acres that henry clay purchased. at its height the farm was about 670 acres. and we -- should learn a little bit more about his family before we go in for the tour. he and his wife had how many children? did they all live here? >> they have 11 children. however, they did not all live here at the same time. there's a lot of tragedy in the family. all six of henry's daughters would die. only two made it into early adulthood. and one of the sons died as well during henry's lifetime. there was a fair bit of tragedy here. >> the house interprets henry clay at what period of his life? >> the house interprets henry clay throughout his life. we mentioned when he was born and showed a picture of his
birth place. go until his death of 1852. we talk about this span of his life and his family and his political career as well as his farming and legal career. >> what we are going to see now is what visitors to ashland would see as they toured the first floor of the estate. take us on a bit of a tour, if you would. >> we are in the foyer now. this is where the clay family would have welcomed their guests. the clay family established a long legacy of welcoming guests here at ashland. this is the drawing room. many of the clays' important guest was have come to this room. it was the most formal room in the house. the china was given to her.
she was known for her strawberry ice cream. in the original house this room was used by henry clay. like a home office for his three careers. henry, of course, was a farmer, lawyer, and a statesman. i would like to draw attention to henry clay's portfolio and document box. henry clay would have used these items when he went to washington, d.c. we have a pair of stirrups that say henry clay. 11 kentucky derby winners can draw their heritage back here. next we have the library. henry claw began house legal career in 1797. we have his law license up here
on the wall. this was issued to him in 1797 in virginia. henry clay would turn to his legal career throughout house life as a source of revenue or income. and his legal career and his great oratory helped define who he was. >> we will be back with you throughout the program. you will be available to answer some of our viewer questions and you will also take us on a tour of other places in the house. thank you very much for this view of ashland in henry clay's period. who are some of the famous people he may have hosted here. >> several presidents came here. near harrison. met with clay here. van buren came here two years before they thought they would be running against each other in 1844. they both issued letters later on.
did they meet in rooms like this and talk over that? we don't know. basically a lot of famous people including lafayette and others have been through this area. all those people wanted to see and foreign dignitaries that visited wanted to come to lexington. cultural center of the west. political center of the west with henry clay here. >> we are going to mix in our first viewer phone call from brian in springfield, illinois. welcome to our conversation about henry clay. >> good good evening. i want to thank c-span for these series. it is a great idea. i'm calling from the springfield, illinois, with a non-lincoynincoln themed questi. i want to ask the pan bell 1824 and charge against henry clay when he back -- quincy adams and accepted the secretary of state position. do you think that's the reason why we are referring to henry clay as contenderte